Flannel Flap | Letters to the Editor | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Flannel Flap 

Readers respond to the American Apparel ad in the November 24 print issue

Published December 1, 2010 at 5:20 a.m.

Why would a woman-owned newspaper accept an advertisement for “flannel” that shows a half-naked female holding a ski pole? Every time American Apparel runs a racy promotion for its Burlington store, we get a handful of angry letters: Some readers are offended by the partial nudity; others are appalled by the presumed age of the models, or the size and prominence of the ads. Smaller, comparable lingerie ads rarely cause a stir.

From all the individual voices, we hear: How can Seven Days, in good conscience, profit from images of women that some judge to be demeaning?

American Apparel is a national chain that maintains a store on Burlington’s Cherry Street. The ads for its marketing campaign — which come out of Los Angeles — run in newspapers like ours all across the country. American Apparel isn’t willing to adjust the ads for more puritanical markets any more than they’re willing to take down the titillating posters that adorn their retail outlets.

We know, because we’ve asked them to. On several occasions, including this one, our sales department suggested that a more wholesome image might be more effective in luring Vermonters into the Burlington store. We even tried arguing this sockless ski bunny is not an accurate depiction of winter in New England. Their response: Run it as is.

Why don’t we refuse the ads, local store be damned?

It’s true that ad revenue pays for our newsgathering, and American Apparel is one of our few national advertisers. But we’re not so hard up for cash that we would sacrifice our principles for a check from L.A. In our view, Seven Days is a reflection of the community it serves — “hot to trot” ads and all — and that’s what makes it the lively, truth-telling local weekly that it is. It is not our job to whitewash that image, or to make it more palatable to parents with young children. No, we wouldn’t accept advertising that explicitly incites hate or violence. In our view, this half-naked woman in profile — with no “parts” visible — is not pornographic. In short, it doesn’t cross our line, which, like all views expressed here, is subjective.

Vermont is unlike the rest of the country; that’s why we live here. But can we expect — no, demand — total isolation from American popular culture? Vermont newsstands — at the airport, the supermarket, the corner store — still stock magazines, many of which feature scantily clad celebrities on their covers. Vermonters stroll through the mall past provocative promotional posters for Victoria’s Secret, Calvin Klein, and Abercrombie & Fitch. Does it matter that the last two brands prefer the naked male form to the female one?

American Apparel’s ad is no more offensive than those. The model appears to be of age. She’s not “bound,” as one letter writer suggested, or holding a riding crop, as another viewed her ski-pole prop. Heck, she doesn’t even look anorexic.

Seven Days is a vehicle for information, which includes advertising messages that we may not personally agree with. Through the paper, American Apparel is letting you know precisely what its local outlet represents. Our job is to convey the clothing company’s message, as long as it’s legal. Whether you choose to patronize the store is up to you.

--Paula Routly & Pamela Polston

My 7-year-old son would like to know why the woman on the back page of Seven Days has no pants on. Wasn’t sure what to tell him … I have spent a lot of time explaining that we wear clothes in public, even though he would be perfectly happy to run around without them. I know you probably won’t change your ads, but maybe you could at least include suggestions of what to tell curious young kids who get their hands on this publication. Help us parents out here!

Joan Kahn


I am writing to express my disappointment in your current practices, and express my desire for you to make a change. I found the American Apparel ad published during Thanksgiving week to be unacceptable. As a full-page ad on the back of the paper, it was high profile, often seen in public places such as the library, City Market, coffee shops, etc. The ad featured a young woman — or girl — naked on her bottom half, supposedly advertising a flannel shirt. Perhaps you’d like to explain to children across Vermont, especially girls, many of whom may have already been sexually harassed or abused, why you find it acceptable to take thousands of dollars in advertising money from American Apparel in exchange for the mass distribution of these types of marketing images. The CEO of American Apparel, Dov Charney, has at least four sexual-harassment lawsuits filed against him.

I am surprised and discouraged by the lack of leadership and integrity that the Seven Days publishers are exhibiting here. A blanket policy of noncensorship just does not make sense in some cases involving advertising, including this one.

Melanie Brotz


Shame on Seven Days for choosing to run the current full-page ad by American Apparel depicting a young woman naked from the midriff down and provocatively posed with a ski pole. What are you thinking? Are your advertising decisions made by women —Pamela Polston and Paula Routly, are you there? — or adolescent boys? What message does this send to your readership, a good portion of whom are young college-age women and men? As the mom of a 6-year-old boy, and a media literacy educator, I’m not asking for censorship, just some common sense, principles and responsibility. I expect better from Seven Days.

Suzie DeBrosse


Imagine my surprise, as I sit on my couch at home, in the company of my 5- and 8-year-old boys, to find a girl with no pants on the back cover. I’ve always felt that American Apparel has pushed the limits in their advertising. But this goes too far. I felt like they were basically flipping me the bird, reveling in their own controversy. And now I feel Seven Days, by printing the ad and accepting AA’s money, is doing the same thing. Screw you, readers. We got paid, so who cares what kind of shit they want to sell.

Look, if Seven Days wants to position itself as an alternative weekly for adult audiences only, do it. But don’t offer it free at the local supermarket or YMCA, for any child to pick up and take home. And don’t flip me the bird. I pick up your paper because I do enjoy some of the writing and food reviews. The main story was awesome. This ad just sucked. I expect an explanation. As a regular reader, I feel betrayed.

Michelle Hobbs


I think it’s irresponsible of Seven Days to publish an advertisement that so clearly degrades women and girls. I think it contributes to teen girls feeling that they have to be sexy and skinny to have worth. It’s time for Seven Days to take a stand in favor of women and girls’ positive self-esteem and drop the American Apparel ad.

Katie Berk


I know American Apparel ads have drawn flak before, but, good Lord, a picture of a half-naked woman with her arms bound just seems beyond all reason. What are you thinking?

Sharon Snow


The American Apparel ad on the back cover of the most recent Seven Days is really inappropriate, unless you guys plan on publishing an equally pantless man looking foolish while suggestively holding a riding crop next week. In that case, the ad is just typical AA drooling- base idiocy. And please don’t tell me to take it out on AA and not on you. AA’s clothes suck, and their ads are empty-headed trash. If they want to shape their brand that way, that’s their call. Publishing them is yours.

This isn’t about nudity, so don’t even go there.

Juliet Buck

South Burlington

I’m a loyal reader and I found that ad bad enough that I just put the paper back down on the newsstand this week. American Apparel ads generally push the limits anyway, but this was too much. I know you know better. You are a great read with fantastic content and thoughtful contributors. I know the newspaper industry is hurting, but, please, these “ends” simply do not justify the means.

Rachel Stampul


I’m all about supporting the first amendment, and I think your publication fairly gives voice to both sides, even if you don’t agree with it.

I have to say, though, that you can exercise discretion about what you choose to print, as those choices do affect your image. The choice I am referring to is the American Apparel ad that appeared on the back cover of your recent edition.

It is a poor choice for the back cover of a widely distributed, revered, respected publication. If this ad does anything, it suggests that you support this marketing scheme and I would be surprised if I were the only one you heard from about this.

I’ve already ranted to the company directly that this ad campaign is exploitative, it’s disappointing and, quite simply, it’s stupid.

But there is a responsibility you hold, too, and it might be in your best interest to make better choices that serve your local public better — at least for the back cover page. I think it appropriate to have standards, your publication has displayed that they exist in the past, but this ad sadly suggests there are none.

Margaret Estey

South Burlington

That American Apparel ad is scandalous. And this is not the first time; during the summer there was one of a young girl that was on a par with kiddie porn. Who do they think they are impressing? Parents are the ones who ultimately pay the shopping bills, and there is no way that type of advertising influences them — except to ban their products from their home.

And your paper should know better. If you want people with money to respect your product and value your advertising, you need to edit what you print.

Irene Clarke

North Hero

Although I understand that this stuff sells, I find it discouraging that the strong, talented women who control Seven Days feel it is appropriate to accept this degrading soft-porn ad to display in their paper in such a prominent place. Shame on you for letting the almighty dollar be more important than the fight against the blatant exploitation of women. You owe greater respect to your women readers and the women on this planet than you have shown with this display.

Eileen Andreoli


I read your paper every week and it’s the only paper I read regularly because I really like it. But I’m very offended by the full-page ad you chose to run, for American Apparel, depicting a half-clad woman. We’re a decade into the 21st century now; show some decency and some respect for all people — women especially, by not stooping to such a tasteless, offensive place when it comes to advertising revenues.

Martha Dallas


Dallas is the director of religious education at the First UU Society of Burlington.

I want to join the many others who are surely writing to complain about the recent ad you had for American Apparel on the back of your November 24th issue.  You know the one I mean — the half-naked woman being used to sell a flannel shirt.

I have nothing against nudity in art and do tend to think Americans are overly obsessed with hiding it. However, I do find it extremely annoying and offensive when sex or images clearly meant to be sexy (which this one failed at) are used to try to sell things, particularly to young people.  The ad was tacky and the seminudity gratuitous. In addition, I have young children who become confused when they see an ad like this and wonder why she is naked if the ad is for clothes? How do I explain that one?

Give us a break. If you want to include photos of naked subjects for some artistic or editorial purpose, go ahead, but don’t sink as low as this. It just gave me a really bad taste in my mouth and diminished your paper’s caliber one more notch in my book.

Raquel Aronhime


Come on, folks.The apparently naked gal on the back page I’m hoping was a lapse in judgment. Please be more socially conscious about the message you are sending. Some loony or repressed person will see that ad and want to act on it in a very unhealthy way. Playboy you are not ... I hope.

Carol Shepherd


I have to say I find the ad on the back cover of the November 24 issue of Seven Days really objectionable. Using a half-naked young woman to advertise flannel apparel is not something I expect to find in Seven Days. I've been a faithful reader since you began publishing, but this is really verging on porn in my opinion. Seven Days can and should do better than this. This is not the Vermont way, and I expect better from you all!!

Sally Conrad


I didn’t like it. Come on!

Nan Reid


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About The Author

Pamela Polston

Pamela Polston

Pamela Polston is a cofounder and the Art Editor of Seven Days. In 2015, she was inducted into the New England Newspaper Hall of Fame.


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